Kazakhstan’s president says he has ordered security forces to “fire without warning”, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also said “20,000 bandits” had attacked the main city of Almaty, the epicentre of protests sparked by a fuel price hike.
He has blamed foreign-trained “terrorists”, without giving evidence.
The interior ministry says 26 “armed criminals” and 18 security officers have been killed so far in the unrest.
In a televised address, Mr Tokayev dismissed calls to hold talks with protesters as “nonsense”, saying: “What kind of talks can we hold with criminals and murderers?”
“We had to deal with armed and well-prepared bandits, local as well as foreign. More precisely, with terrorists. So we have to destroy them, this will be done soon,” he said.
Opposition groups have rejected the authorities’ accusations of terrorism.
President Tokayev said peacekeeping forces sent from Russia and neighbouring states had arrived on his request and were in the country on a temporary basis to ensure security.
The force from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) reportedly has about 2,500 soldiers. Mr Tokayev gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops to the former Soviet nation.
Earlier, the president said constitutional order had been largely restored although gunfire was heard near the main square of Almaty.
Internet connection seems to have been restored in some areas, and Kazakh officials and CSTO troops were controlling Almaty’s main airport, a day after it was recaptured from protesters.
According to The BBC, the unrest began on Sunday when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – which many people in Kazakhstan use to fuel their cars – doubled.
The government has said that fuel price caps will be restored for six months. But the announcement has failed to end the protests, which have broadened to include other political grievances.
Kazakhstan is often described as authoritarian, and most elections are won by the ruling party with nearly 100% of the vote. There is no effective political opposition.